Gladstone’s Land – Travelling through time in the Royal Mile

The golden “gled”, Scots for hawk – perhaps the meaning of Gledstaine

Recently I went on a guided tour of the National Trust for Scotland’s Gladstone’s Land on the Royal Mile. My tour guide was David, our informative and enthusiastic volunteer . He gave us fascinating facts, stories and insights as we walked through this 17thcentury tenement.

The Royal Mile in the 1600s

Arches from the 1600s. You reach the apartments via the stairway on the left.

We started the tour outside, under Edinburgh’s only surviving 17thcentury arched store frontage.  It’s quite something to imagine the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh in the 1600s. People would along the markets on the mile and buy their wares from under these arches.  There was a quality grocer and a cloth shop on the ground floor. The basement housed a tavern – I suppose the equivalent of our coffee shops today – especially people thought beer was safer than water!

Spices were a rich man’s treasure
magnificent bed head

My first discovery was just how crowded the Royal Mile was at that time.  It was very much des res for the wealthy, at least on the middle floors, with the poorer taking up the top and bottom floors.  Gladstone, however, built his land for rich tenants, as you can see by its opulent décor.  The extensions along the narrow closes were testament to the shortage of housing and the desirability of the area.  This six-storey building was once considered a skyscraper. Later, buildings of thirteen storeys extended down the steep banks towards what is now Princes Street gardens. The difference in population density between the upper and lower halves of the Royal Mile is quite stunning.  People wanted to live near the Castle, in the Lawnmarket, because it was within the city walls. Down towards Holyrood Palace was the Canongate, and it wasn’t part of Edinburgh City.

The Royal Mile – the black vertical lines are the buildings along the closes – quite a contrast to the leafy suburbs of the Canongate!

When merchant Thomas Gladstone built his tenement block for rental, it was not only a sign of his commercial success (and fortuitous marriage!) It also qualified as a very Nice Little Earner! Edinburgh was at one time the most densely populated city on Earth!

The wooden shuttered half windows show the high price of glass at the time

Stepping back in time

Vivid, sumptuous ceiling beams – perhaps with hidden meaning?

Inside the building, the painted ceiling beams are vivid and clear after many decades hidden from daylight by plaster coverings.  There are still a few wall drawings to see (found underneath 14 layers of paint!) The NTS has made some new impressions to give a better idea of the surroundings.

Walls would have been decorated in this style

The number of people living in such small spaces is hard to conceive of by today’s standards, especially given the lack of running water and sewage facilities.  The stories of  “Gardyloo” give a quite different meaning to Edinburgh’s nickname of “Auld Reekie”.

Changes as the New Town develops

There’s also a room that goes “forward” in time to the 1800s. Most of the wealthy had decanted to the New Town to the North of Princes Street, but some still kept a pied-a-terre for business purposes.  Quite a change in lifestyle – but not for the poor who were left in the Old Town as it became more and more cramped and squalid.

Painting from the 1800s. As was the custom for rich people of the time, the artist came and painted the landscape directly on to the wall.

How to visit

Interesting footwear – and more practical than they seem!

I’ll not steal David’s thunder by telling his stories. But finding out about Witch Prickers, open plan loos and strangely designed footwear are just some of the reasons to visit Gladstone’s Land.  There’s also a link to the Darien Company, whose failure led to the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England.  Thank goodness the National Trust for Scotland rescued this building from demolition in 1934!

Gladstone’s Land is a short 19 minute stroll from Anthemion Apartment Edinburgh, or you can go by bus in 13 minutes by taking the 23 or 27.

Visits are free for National Trust for Scotland members.  In high season, it’s worth booking your tour in advance, as places are taken up very quickly.

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Craigmillar: The Other Edinburgh Castle

Everyone who knows Scotland knows about the Castle at the top of the Royal Mile. But what about the castle, three miles southeast of Edinburgh, that looks upon its more famous neighbour?  Craigmillar Castle has plenty of stories to tell!

The castle viewed from the west

Craigmillar Castle

The modernised west range

Recently we had a wee explore of Craigmillar Castle. The oldest part of the castle dates back to the early 1400s, and over the next 250 years the owners extended and developed it. It has links to the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots.  She came here after the murder of her secretary and rumoured lover, David Rizzio. It was here, too, that others plotted to kill her husband, Lord Darnley

Pretty eerie dungeon, complete with en-suite!

 

I just loved that I was able to delve into the different areas of the castle. It was fun to imagine what they must have been like at the time. There are some pretty good information boards, but for children and the young-at-heart, climbing winding staircases, and stepping into old dungeons is a fun activity in itself!

 

 

 

Extensions and mod cons

The castle itself probably began with the Tower House, still in existence.  The then owners, the Prestons, built it in 1400. There are quite a number of coats of arms and other signs of their tenure. Then in 1440 the grandson built the fortress-like walls that surround the ancient castle. In 1510 another family member built the less military-looking outer walls, enclosing a much bigger garden.

The banquet hall. To the right, a lovely seating area at the window

In 1544 the English captured the castle (along with its unfortunate laird!) They further extended the building with an east range, and it was here that Mary, Queen of Scots likely stayed.

In the mid 17th century, the Prestons sold the castle to the Gilmours, who built the west range. However, they wanted modernity and comfort that the castle couldn’t provide.  They abandoned it and went off to their nearby new-build, Inch House. (It’s still around too, and the locals use it as a community centre.)

The Castle Today

The inner courtyard

Amazingly, a lot of the castle still survives and it is a great place to visit and explore. A great family outing or one just to savour on your own!

The climb up to the top of the tower is worth it for the views – across the forth, over Edinburgh Castle, towards Arthur’s Seat – fabulous!

View from Craigmillar to Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat

 

From Anthemion, it takes about 20 minutes by car. There’s also a bus to the nearby royal infirmary (No 24 from Howe Street) that leaves every 30 minutes. Craigmillar Castle is now run by Historic Scotland, who also run Edinburgh Castle, and members have free admission.

Prices and Availability

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Calton Hill Part 1: the Nelson Monument

Calton Hill

Nelson Monument Calton Hill
Nelson Monument from St Andrews House

 

Calton Hill in Edinburgh is at the west end of Princes Street, just a short walk away from Anthemion in New Town, and you’ll get your reward for the wee climb to get to the top. There are a number of historic monuments and 360º views.  It’s an excellent way to get the lay of the land and to see several of Edinburgh’s seven hills.

Calton Hill Nelson Monument
Calton Hill with the Nelson Monument, from North Bridge

Nelson Monument

Make sure you don’t miss a visit to the Nelson Monument. It was built between 1807 and 1815 to commemorate Nelson’s victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. (Around 20% of the military in the Battle were Scots.  10-year-old John Doig from Leith was among them, and was the youngest crew member). The monument sits on the highest point at Calton Hill.  Its original purpose was as a signal mast to the sailors in the port of Leith. As you climb the 143 steps to the gallery at the top, you can see why!

Holyrood Nelson Monument Calton Hill
View of the Palace of Holyrood House from the Nelson Monument

Calton Hill Nelson Monument
View from the Burns Monument

The city fathers discussed the design of the monument at length, and wrestled with the inevitable funding problems.  They finally settled on architect Robert Burn’s design. He modelled the monument on an upturned telescope. The castellations on top of the monument mirrored those of the notorious Calton Jail, which was on the south of the hill.

Calton Burial Ground Jail
The Governor’s House – all that remains of Calton Jail

Money was tight, so when Mrs Kerr, the widow of a petty officer, leased the monument to set up a tea room, she helped provide the necessary funding to complete the job.

The Time Ball

In 1853, the city added the time ball. It signalled the time to the sailors who set their chronometers by its rise and fall, and were thus able to calculate longitude more precisely. Originally, the clock in the nearby City Observatory (about which, more in future!) triggered the clock via an underground wire.   The ball rises just before 1pm and falls at exactly 1pm. Because on foggy days the sailors could not see the ball, the authorities established the one o’clock gun at Edinburgh Castle so that the signal could be heard if not seen. The two were synchronised via a very long telegraph wire between Calton Hill and the Castle. For 150 years the ball faithfully fulfilled its role, until a storm damaged it in 2007.

Nelson Monument Calton Hill Inverleith Park
Nelson Monument from Inverleith Park

 

The City of Edinburgh Council and restored the monument in 2009 and the ball was repaired, and you can still see it in operation today.Ritchie & Son Clockmakers have had the responsibility of operating the ball since 1852 and continue to this day.

Trafalgar Day

On Trafalgar Day, 21 October, every year, the city runs flags with the message that Nelson set out at the start of the battle: “England expects that every man will do his duty”. On a slightly more down-to-earth matter, Holyrood Palace has also used flags from the monument when they signalled the cancellation of royal garden parties due to rain!

Edinburgh's Folly view leith bass rock
Edinburgh’s Folly, Port of Leith, and even Bass Rock! from the Monument

If you’re fit to climb the stairs, it’s well worth a visit.  The views are unparalleled.  It’s open all year round.

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Robert Burns: Scottish poetry for everyone

Burns Statue Portrait Gallery Christmas
Burns Statue, National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

Burns: The Words

You may think you don’t know any poetry by Robert Burns– but you do!

Ever linked arms and sung Auld Lang Syne? Or remarked that “the best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray?” Or hummed the song “Coming through the rye”? You may be surprised that they are all works by Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet.

The Man

Burns was a ploughman, born and raised in Ayrshire to tenant farmers. His parents paid for a decent basic education, and he continued to study on his own. His poetry was very much in tune with the literary tastes of the time: he was just ahead of the countryside loving Romantics (Shelley, Wordsworth, Coleridge).  Thus the general public loved his use of his country experiences to reflect on universal considerations. Although he was very adept at writing in English Burns chose to write in Scots language or dialect.  Many readers feel that the lilt and language add beauty and atmosphere to his work.

When he moved to Edinburgh in 1786 (on a borrowed pony!) the Scottish enlightenment was in full swing. So it was that young Burns found himself amongst some learned men – metaphysicians, philosophers and Earls!  The egalitarian poet must have been happy with the set-up in Edinburgh Old Town, where all levels of society lived side-by-side.  However, he was also a womaniser and heavy drinker, and he soon spent the fortune he made through his poetry.  Consequently, he took a job as an Exciseman (tax collector) in Dumfries – not something that particularly suited to his personality, rockstar lifestyle (whisky, women and song!) or his social views. But he continued to write poetry and during this period wrote some of his most stunning works.  Amongst them was the glorious Tam O’ Shanter. (Once you know the story, have a wee listen to Malcolm Arnold’s musical interpretation.  It’s great!)

Sadly, Burns’ health deteriorated rapidly, and he died of endocarditis at age 37.  He was buried in St Michael’s churchyard in Dumfries, with full military honours.

Although “Burns Country” remains his beloved Ayrshire, there are monuments to him in Edinburgh: a beautiful statue in the main hall of the National Portrait Gallery, and a Monument down from Calton Hill, looking towards Arthur’s Seat – a short walk away from Anthemion.

Burns Monument Edinburgh
Burns Monument, Edinburgh

The Memory

Scots throughout the world celebrate Burns’ Night on 25th January each year, on the anniversary of the poet’s birthday.  In the past, Burns Suppers were an all-male affair, but nowadays both men and women attend.

If you attend a traditional Burns supper, the format will go something like this:

 

Selkirk Grace

Piping in of the Haggis

Recital of the “Toast to the Haggis” by Robert Burns

Meal

Speeches:

“The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns”, a speech about the poet and his life

“Toast tae the Lassies”, a speech (by a man) celebrating the fairer sex. This is normally humorous and can be quite risqué! (Burns would have approved, as he wasn’t averse to the odd risqueé poem himself!)

“Reply on Behalf of the Lassies”, a speech (now normally by a lady) that gives as good as it gets in terms of humour at the expense of the men!

Toasts, of course, are with a wee dram, so keep your glass filled!

The night ends with everyone standing in a circle singing Auld Lang Syne.  Please note, for the purist, that there is no “for the sake of” in the song, and that you shouldn’t link arms until the verse that starts “And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere”.  Oh, and it’s Syne with an “s”, not a “z”!  There you go, you’re all set!

There are plenty of less formal Burns Suppers on the go, and a three-day event this year on New Town’s Rose Street.  In other venues, you might still expect a haggis, whisky – and sometimes a good going ceilidh (Scottish dancing) to round off the night.

And when it’s all over, you could do worse than listen to some Burns songs.  One of my favourite albums is Dougie MacLean‘s  “Tribute“.  Well worth a listen.  I’ve taken it with me all around the world!

 

 

 

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The Unicorn: An unusual national animal

Unicorn figurehead ship Dundee

England has its lion, France its cockerel, the United States their eagle, and Scotland has ……. the unicorn!

Unicorn figurehead ship Dundee
Frigate HMS Unicorn, Dundee Harbour

Symbolism

coat of arms with unicorn
James V Royal Arms, main door Holyrood Palace

But why would Scotland make this extremely strange choice of national animal? To find out, we have to go back in time to Celtic lore and legend.   The ancients believed unicorns had healing powers. Throughout the ages, people thought they could purify water, and heal rubella, measles, and even the plague! Although the unicorn symbolised purity and innocence, it also stood for masculinity, power and courage (eat your heart out, My Little Pony!) It was such a free, wild animal that it had to be chained – and only a virgin maiden could tame it! It would choose to die rather than be taken alive. One can see how our Scottish kings would appreciate the symbolism.

 

Unicorns in Heraldry

edinburgh ice sculptures unicorn
Unicorn Ice Sculpture, Ice Adventure, Edinburgh Christmas

In Scottish heraldry, it goes back to the 12th century, when William I used it in his coat of arms. The unicorn was the enemy of the lion – perhaps another reason to keep it in chains.  Might King Robert the Bruce have seen the significance of this enmity when he adopted it as Scotland’s national animal in the 14th century?  The unicorn also appeared on Scottish coins in the 1400s and 1500s.  Then, in 1603 came the Union of the Crowns.  James VI of Scotland, now also James I of England, decided to change the coat of arms.  He replaced one of the two unicorns in his Scottish Royal Arms with a lion to symbolise the unity of England and Scotland.

unicorn chains edinburgh Holyrood
Holyrood Palace

Unicorn Horn Marketing

While unicorn horn isn’t the marketing draw it used to be (in the middle ages merchants could make a pretty penny because of its well-advertised healing powers) we can still enjoy going searching for the motif as we travel through Scotland.  There are several close to Anthemion!And don’t worry if you don’t believe in uhttp://www.anthemionapartmentedinburgh.co.unicorns – gone are the days when Inquisition could burn you at the stake for doubting its existence!

Unicorn sign for antiques shops
Unicorn Antiques, Dundas St, Edinburgh

To get you started, here are a few examples unicorns in Scotland – where have you spotted our national animal?

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